Many of the traditions we follow have their origins in a completely different part of the world (generally Europe). The vast majority of books and resources on witchcraft and other magical practices and traditions are written by authors who live and practice in the Northern Hemisphere (Europe and North America).
Most of these authors will take traditions and information based on their location for granted, and may not even acknowledge or mention that anything they discuss might be different for practitioners in other locations in the world. On the odd occasion they do, they might mention that they’re aware we experience summer and winter at opposite times of the year, and so the Sabbats might be celebrated on different dates. As far as most are aware, this is the only real difference practising on the opposite side of the equator, and all that’s required to line up our experiences is a little shift in dates.
As many Australian practitioners (as well as others elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere) may be aware, there’s far more differences between the experience of these authors and our own. This can make it difficult and confusing to try to create a practice that exists in-line with the flow of energy and nature around us. We can feel that it’s off, but we might not be able to pinpoint exactly why, or if we can, it can still be challenging to figure out how these differences impact on our practice, and how we approach them.
Having participated in numerous discussions with other Australian and Southern Hemisphere practitioners, I have seen a wide variety of ways that folks approach these challenges. I can definitely say that there is no objectively right or wrong way to approach these things, but I feel like it’s important for us to be able to understand what these differences are, so that we can make our own educated decisions on how we feel it’s best to approach them.
It is also worth noting and examining the impact that colonialism and cultural imperialism have of the way we view these topics, and the level of unconscious bias we may have towards the “correct” European/American concepts as a result.
Flora and Fauna
Ok, admittedly the rest of the world is also pretty aware we have different animals and plants - they don’t have a pet koala or ride a kangaroo to school! - but it’s really not something that comes up in conversations about witchcraft much. Sure, maybe they’ll discuss eucalyptus or tea-tree if essential oils come up, or occasionally make some passing comment to something attached to some mythologies or traditions of “aborigines” (ie Australian Aboriginal people), but mostly it’s just assumed that oak trees, holly, wolves, and rabbits are universal symbols in a natural world in balance.
I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen an oak tree (although I know there are some around that early ‘settlers’ planted), I’ve only seen real holly in-person when I lived in England, the closest we have to wolves are dingoes, and rabbits are one of the largest environmental pests in the country (and thus elicit some slightly different feelings to where they’re native).
This can feel pretty alienating if you’re new to witchcraft (or paganism) and plants and animals you’ve never even seen are apparently core to this practice you’re really interested in. If you’ve been around a while longer, it’s probably something you’re used to being frustrated by. Hell, I was frustrated enough to create a research project about it, and to learn to code in order to organise that information.
This is one of my current special interests, and the aspect of this grimoire that I’ve worked the hardest on. I have mostly focused on species that I have the strongest personal connections to, and thus mostly these are concentrated in the South-West region.
Here are all the Native plants I’ve written on thusfar:
If you’re looking for information on plants that aren’t on this list (yet), I have tried to keep my list of references fairly complete.
Admittedly, while I have a lot of personal experience with native animals (yes, I grew up in the country, and I’m one of those Aussies who’s had multiple pet kangaroos), they’ve really not overlapped at all with my practice thusfar.
But if you are interested, you might find this post on native animal lore, this list of animal correspondences, and the few native animals linked in this list helpful places to start in collating and developing your own information on them.
One of the things I don’t often see discussed is that the view of the moon from the Southern Hemisphere differs from that in the Northern Hemisphere. Due to the angle we’re viewing from, our view of the moon is rotated by 180 degrees from that on the other side of the equator.
A major (and rarely-mentioned) impact of this, is that our view of the moon phases is ‘opposite’ the one we see most places: While in the Northern Hemisphere, the moon waxes from the right and wanes towards the left of our view, in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s first lit from the left of our view, and the light of the waning moon is to the right.
The “Triple Moon” symbol (of the waxing, full, and waning moon) we’re used to seeing represents a Northern Hemisphere view. While it’s traditionally drawn as )O( the view of the same pattern from the Southern Hemisphere would be ( O ) in shape.
Being on the opposite side of the equator has a definite impact on directional energy. This is reflected both in terms of the way we relate to the cardinal directions, and in terms of directional movement.
Cardinal Directions and the Elements
Traditional Wicca has heavily influenced modern mainstream traditions surrounding magical practice. This was developed in England in the 1950s (and influenced by preceding British magical and occult traditions), and so the “traditional” associations between the cardinal directions and the elements are influenced by this location:
- East is the rising sun, which is associated with air;
- South is the equator, so it’s associated with fire;
- West (past Ireland) is the Atlantic Ocean, so it’s associated with water;
- North is the Arctic - they’ve associated winter with earth, so this translates to the direction which becomes permanent winter.
Obviously these become less appropriate and relevant when you have a practice based elsewhere in the world. I really feel like this is something that’s worth each practitioner putting at least a little thought into, to decide what makes sense to them personally in the space they live.
In South-Western Australia, I associate the directions thus:
- East is the entire continent of Australia, with the forested Darling Ranges, which is earth;
- South is the prevailing winds which come from the Antarctic, making air feel like the appropriate choice;
- West is the Indian Ocean, which is water;
- North is the equator, so fire.
As well as looking at how the elements might physically manifest in your location, Jane Meredith’s Circle of Eight (2015) offers a framework for working with the energy of the directions to form a relationship with them through experience.
The Sun’s Path
One of the things that might never come up, depending on the sources you read, is Northern Hemisphere resources using the terms “clockwise” and “deosil/sunwise” interchangeably.
The sun’s path over the course of each day (as viewed from Earth) travels across the sky from East to West, skewing towards the equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, this means the sun starts in the east, moves slightly into the southern sky, and sets in the west. When humans started using sundials to track the time, this means that the shadows pointed westward in the morning, moving northward towards midday, and eastward in the afternoon. When they moved from measuring time by the sun to mechanical means (clocks), this pattern remained, and became “clockwise”.
However, “deosil” (or “sunwise”) specifically refers to the direction of the sun’s path. In the Southern Hemisphere, while the sun’s path starts and ends in the same directions, that skew towards the equator takes it Northwards, instead of south. This makes our view of its movement actually move in an anti-clockwise direction.
Traditionally, directional movement holds quite a lot of significance in magical practice. Circles are cast in a sunwise direction and released widdershins (travelling against the sun). Movements to draw something in traditionally move deosil direction (pulling the energy forward in time), and movements for banishing are done widdershins (pushing it away in time, into the past). By replacing these terms with “clockwise” or “anti-clockwise”, and using them as such on the opposite side of the equator, the way these movements tie in with the natural flow of energy is reversed.
Seasons and Sabbats
With seasonal celebrations being an important part of most folks' practices (whether you follow the Wiccan/neopagan Wheel of the Year, observe just the solstices/equinoxes, or even stick with more mainstream religious and cultural holidays), living somewhere that doesn’t follow a Euro-centric seasonal model can make the question of “how do I approach these here??” a common stumbling block.
Having put a lot of thought into this question myself, and participated in a lot of discussions on the topic, I’m going to suggest getting at least some basic understanding of your areas seasonal (and possibly agricultural) patterns first, and then looking at how you might approach it.
One of the most obvious and well-known difference between the hemispheres, that even most folks living in the Northern half are aware of, is that our seasons occur at the opposite time of year.
Obviously this is an over-simplification, as seasonal patterns are affected by far more factors. This idea of “opposites” is also largely based on a Euro-centric seasonal model, which awkwardly sits over the calendar in some places, and in others - like the tropics - is almost entirely absurd.
I feel like it’s beneficial for most of us to try to learn about the actual natural weather patterns of our own areas. It might be pretty similar, and most of the differences are down to the different flora and fauna, or it might not divide into four distinct seasons at all. I’ve found Indigenous weather knowledge to be a useful place to start researching, because that’s going to give you much more reality-based information in a colonised country than modern science, which is still often interpreting data through a foreign lens.
It’s hard to try to adapt a system built around the patterns of another place to where you live, if you don’t really know what the patterns are here. Once you have some idea of the seasons, you can look more into what might be the best approach to celebrate them.
So When do I Celebrate the Sabbats?
Ok, so there are a number of different ways to approach this, depending on how quickly you want to make a decision and how much effort you want to put into said decision.
Approach #1: Follow the “Traditional” (European) Dates
An easy option, that requires zero real thought, is to just follow the dates as they’re celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere, as they’re presented in pretty well every witchy/Wiccan/Neopagan book you’re likely to get your hands on.
- Follow the dates in most books/resources;
- Celebrate at the same time as the majority of the (international) community;
- Sabbats will thematically match the European seasonal holidays that have made it into our secular calendar (Yule/Christmas, Samhain/Halloween, Ostara/Easter);
- If you follow European pagan beliefs, particularly any that the Wiccan/neopagan wheel has borrowed traditions from, you’re celebrating those holidays at the same time as they were/are celebrated in that land;
- Does your environment come alive in winter (when the NH are celebrating the height of vitality at Beltane and Midsummer) and die/go into hibernation over summer (when the NH are focusing on the quiet/hibernation of winter)? Because that might match up well!
- Celebrating Summer Solstice when it’s Winter Solstice where you are (and vice versa, and the same with the Equinoxes) can just be.. weird?
- The imagery and symbolism is likely to be double-out: Not only do you have the disconnect, for example, of Yule/Christmas symbolism being heavy on foreign flora and fauna like pine trees, holly, and robins, but it can also cause some cognitive dissonance decorating with snowflakes and heavy roasts and mulled wine when it’s the height of summer and you can see heat rising off the road outside.
Approach #2: ‘Flip/Rotate’ the Wheel
Another easy option, and probably the most popular, is to just flip/rotate the Wheel of the Year so that the solar events (solstices and equinoxes) match up. This shifts the dates by 6 months, and “swaps” the Sabbats. It’s version that you’ll see in almost any book/resource you look at that acknowledges those of us in the Southern Hemisphere.
- Follow the Southern Hemisphere dates in most books/resources;
- Celebrate at the same time as the majority of the Southern Hemisphere community;
- Sabbats will thematically match the Eurocentric view of the seasons: You’re celebrating mid-winter at Winter Solstice, and midsummer at Summer Solstice;
- Does your environment come alive in summer (when Beltane and Midsummer are celebrating the height of vitality) and die/go into hibernation over winter (when the focus of Yule is on silence and scarcity)? Because that sounds like a match!
- Celebrating opposite the international community can be alienating, especially when so many people/spaces don’t acknowledge that their experiences and practices aren’t universal;
- If you follow any European pagan beliefs that the Wiccan/neopagan wheel has borrowed traditions from, you’re celebrating those holidays at the opposite time as they were/are celebrated in that land;
- Sabbats will thematically oppose the European seasonal holidays that have made it into our secular calendar, and might make you extra-aware of how weird it is decorating for “autumn” Halloween themes at the height of spring and “spring” Easter themes when it’s autumn. How do you decorate for Halloween AND Beltane, or Christmas AND Midsummer? If you have children, how to you explain that dichotomy?
As listed above, this approach can leave folks pretty confused and frazzled as to how to reconcile celebrations with “energies” so different to what folks in the other half of the world are celebrating, or especially how to reconcile these celebrations with the European holidays in our calender. One of the things worth noting is that the planet is a constant state of balance: what’s happening in one place is a balance to that which is happening in another. The other thing to note is how the “opposing” celebrations relate to each other: eg Samhain and Beltane both have a focus on the ‘thinning of the veil between worlds’, with Samhain on its way into winter lending itself to a closeness with the dead, and Beltane at the height of spring holding a focus on the Fair Folk - one gives thanks for the bounty of harvest and the other to the bounty of life flourishing (which will later lead to the harvest), and both traditionally focusing on divination and relationships. They can easily be seen as different sides of the same coin.
Approach #3: ‘Flip/Rotate’ the Wheel and then Customise it
This is where the work starts to come in. Again, one of the more popular approaches is the flip the wheel (as above) and use that as a framework to customise your own Wheel of the Year.
Usually the names and dates will remain intact (although aligning with the timing of the astrological events might become more important than celebrating on the same calendar date each year), but then how much you stick with the ‘traditional’ vs how much you customise things is completely up to you. Maybe you keep the themes and mythologies but add in/swap out seasonally-appropriate local flora and fauna? Maybe you add in some extra days that are important to you as well, because they’re important to your religious path, or because they hold great personal significance to you. You really can take this where you like.
- Following the Southern Hemisphere dates from most books/resources, either exactly or close enough;
- Celebrating the same things at the same time as most other folks in the Southern Hemisphere community, or pretty close to;
- Great for forming a connection with your local seasons and environment;
- Flexible and customisable: If something doesn’t gel, explore why, change things, try stuff;
- Interactive and dynamic: Your relationship takes priority over the information written in a book, and being forever-changing rather than fixed can be interesting and engaging.
- You might never be “finished” building your wheel;
- It takes active thought and involvement. Particularly if you’re new, this can be incredibly overwhelming;
- If you follow pagan beliefs from elsewhere in the world (especially any of those that the Wiccan/neopagan wheel has borrowed traditions from), you’ll have to decide whether it makes more sense to celebrate events by the seasons or the calendar.
I think probably the easiest way to approach this is a little at a time. Start with just flipping the wheel, and as the wheel turns, work on your relationships with both the sabbats as they’re presented and the seasonal shifts happening around you. Maybe set one goal to focus on for each revolution: Get a feel for the ‘traditional’ wheel, get a feel for the seasons where you live and how they compare, notice what the local flora and fauna are doing, meditate on what colours/energies are prominent, learn about what your local agricultural cycles are doing and what food is in season. The fact that there’s no time limit on it means that you can just do a little at a time, and you can tweak it each time it rolls around.
One book which uses this approach is Dancing the Sacred Wheel (2012), by Adelaide witch/author Frances Billinghurst. Frances presents her approach to the Sabbats in this book, and it’s highly influenced by both the natural cycles around Adelaide, and her path as a Celtic Wiccan.
Approach #4: Create Your Own Wheel from Scratch!
The final approach is to completely throw the Wicca/neopagan wheel straight in the bin and build your own wheel/calendar from scratch. No guides and no preconceptions! Is that exciting? Terrifying? Maybe some of both?
- You’re starting from zero with no existing frameworks or ideas!
- Ultimate freedom and flexibility;
- You’re starting from zero with no existing frameworks or ideas!
- Enormous job: starting from zero with no framework or guide;
For a great example of this approach, check out Australian Druidry (2017) by Julie Brett, who takes this approach creating a Wheel of the Year for her area in Sydney (pictured).
If you’re looking for extra information on Aussie witchcraft, I am trying to keep my list of references and further reading as comprehensive as possible.
It does only include things I’ve referenced or otherwise read or found useful, so it will definitely expand (and I do have a few books on the topic on my to-read list), but hopefully it’s still comprehensive enough to be of value.